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Quality of Life: Measurement and methodology
[Page last updated 18 April 2017]
There has been intense debate over the years on methodology and measurement of the concept "Quality of Life" and there is a variety of working definitions deriving from separate academic disciplines and political perspectives. In the UK, the late Claus Moser (Director of the then Central Statistical Office, precursor of the Office for National Statistics) wrote an article Measuring the Quality of Life (New Society, 10 Dec 1970) making the case for such research to be taken seriously, even by government.
In Measuring Expectations (Econometrica vol. 72, 2004, 1329-1376) Charles F Manski wrote, "Economists have long been hostile to subjective data. Caution is prudent, but hostility is not warranted. The empirical evidence . . . .shows that, by and large, persons respond informatively to questions eliciting probabilistic expectations for personally significant events. … The unattractive alternative to measurement is to make unsubstantiated assumptions”
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publishes Guidelines for Measuring Subjective Well-being (2016) and there is a free (pdf) download of Stone and Mackie [Eds] Subjective Well-Being: Measuring Happiness, Suffering, and Other Dimensions of Experience. See also the ESRC what works wellbeing site and John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs [Eds] World Happiness Report 2013
The UK Office for National Statistics now runs a Well-being module in their regular surveys which they report in their bulletin ( See: Personal Well-being in the UK: 2013-14) The programme was developed by a team led by Paul Allin (now retired) co-author of a new book:
Allin P. and Hand D.J.
The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive and Measurement
(John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, 2014)
[Extract from publisher's blurb]
"What is national wellbeing and what is progress? Why measure these definitions? Why are measures beyond economic performance needed and how will they be used? How do we measure national wellbeing & turn the definitions into observable quantities? Where are we now and where to next?
These questions are asked and answered in this much needed, timely book"
See also the 2013 article Looking back at thirty years of British Social Attitudes by Jenny Church.
A further publication from an economics perspective is:
Andrew Clark, Sarah Fleche, Richard Layard, Nattavudh Powdthavee, George Ward
Origins of happiness: Evidence and policy implications (Vox EU, 12 December 2016) but this caused heated debate from psychologists.(See Happiness study 'lets austerity off the hook', psychologists claim Guardian headline 25 Dec 2016)
Readers are referred to the following thought-provoking, timely and salutary article:
Martha C. Nussbaum (Wikipedia link)
Who is the happy warrior? Philosophy, happiness research, and public policy
(International Review of Economics, published online: 23 October 2012)
. . and also to:
Welfare and wellbeing in an age of responsibility
Inaugural lecture of Professor David Taylor (28 April 2011) as Professor of Sociology at Brighton University, of which he says,
"I argue that individual wellbeing is not simply about happiness but the quality of personal and social relationships, and that state welfare is not simply about the provision of benefits and services but the subjective experiences of service users. From an interdisciplinary perspective I examine strategies for welfare and wellbeing to reveal assumptions about the individual and the social at their core."
Dave is an old Polytechnic of North London colleague where he was Course Tutor to the final version of the BSocSci (Social Research)
It's also worth looking at an econometric perspective Measuring our progress: The power of well-being from the new economics foundation: there's an associated Happy Planet Index with a short video clip and an interactive map of the world which displays an index or table for each country based on three variables, life expectancy, experienced well-being and ecological footprint.
Quite by chance during my searches for non-SSRC material, I came across Charles Turner at CUNY who replied, “Thank you for your email and the link to your website. It looks to be a useful and valuable resource for my teaching. You should also know that I am very partial to websites that open with a picture of their creator sipping (or chugging) a beer. I was taken by your reminiscence about Cathie [Marsh]. I have such vivid memories of her energy and spunk. I still miss her after all of these years.”
Charles kindly sent me his personal copies (“. .yours to keep for ever.”) of:
Charles F Turner and Elizabeth Martin [Eds]
Surveying Subjective Phenomena (vols 1 and 2)
Russell Sage Foundation, 1984
There is comprehensive coverage of the field in these two volumes, which contain reports by members of the Panel on Survey Measurement of Subjective Phenomena, Committee on National Statistics, Assembly of Behavioral and Social Sciences, National Research Council. The summary report is a model of clarity and intellectual power: it should be compulsory methodology reading for all sociology students.
Turner CF and Martin E [Eds]
Surveys of Subjective Phenomena: Summary Report (113 pages, 4.19 mb)
National Academy Press, Washington DC 1981
Charles also sent a link for single use only reprints covering subjective indicators and survey methods in general.
Value Elicitation: Is there anything in there?
American Psychologist, 1991
Greg Bognar (La Trobe Universlty, Melbourne, Australia)
The Concept of Quality of Life
The new site: European Social SurveyHome - European Social Survey is very impressive:
See also the excellent tutorial:
McLeod, S. A. (2016). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. on the Simply Psychology site.